Critical cartography

Critical cartography refers to the academic field in which products and processes of cartography are critically analysed in order to reveal hegemonic power-relations. Critical cartography opposes the idea that maps are just neutral tools that can be used to convey scientifically obtained information.

Main scholars who played an important role in this first era of critical cartography like Harley (1989) and Monmonier (2005) have criticized the privileged and formalized power structures wherein map making takes place. While maps are products of power, they also produce power since they project the interests of their initiators, and biases and judgements of their developers might influence the outcome of the map. Therefore, Pickles (2004) has argued that maps actually create new worlds which precede the territories they “represent”.

Other scholars (Crampton 2003, Kitchin and Dodge 2007) have extended the critique on the power structures surrounding maps to an examination of the ontological foundation of maps in general. The ontology that forms the foundation of cartography is the belief that the world can be objectively mapped by using scientific tools to capture and display spatial information. Instead of regarding maps as ontologically secure scientific tools, rather the social, cultural and technical contexts that determine how and why maps are produced and used are investigated in the field of critical cartography.


Crampton, J. (2003) The political mapping of cyberspace. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Harley, J.B. (1989) “Deconstructing the map.” Cartographica Vol. 26 (2) pp. 1–20.

Kitchin, R. and Dodge, M. (2007) “Rethinking Maps.” Progress in Human Geography, Vol.31(3) pp. 331-344.

Pickles, J. (2004) A history of spaces: cartographic reason, mapping and the geo-coded world. London: Routledge.    

Monmonier, M. (2005) “Lying with Maps.” Statistical Science, Vol. 20(3) pp. 215-222.